Commentary / MLS / Opinion / Union

CONCACAFing and Controlling emotions: The Union must find balance

Photo by Marjorie Elzy

The 2021 Union are experts in $hithousery. They need to learn when not to be. 

Wednesday night saw the Union drop all three points away from home to Minnesota in what may have been one of their worst defensive performances of all time – a “disaster class,” as PSP’s Chris Gibbons put it. It was a heated game that saw a handful of cards, a plethora of defensive errors, and an abundance of ill-tempered $hithousery.

Sorry but that’s the best word for it.

While the defensive errors were an anomaly that the Union could write off due to poor weather and bad luck, the scrappy play has been a constant for the 2021 Philadelphia Union squad.

A common thread

Throughout the season, the Union have brought a level of bite to games that hasn’t been seen since the famed Connor Casey prowled the front lines for the club. Even with evoking Casey’s name and style of play, it’s hard to contextualize how the Union have played this year. It goes beyond mere physicality and transcends more into the realm of mind games and tactics.

For the most part, it’s a style of play that’s worked for the Union.

When they went down to Saprissa at the beginning of the season, the Central American outfit didn’t know what hit them. The Union jumped out to a one-goal lead in the 34th and never looked back in a game that saw six yellow cards and a brawl to close things out. The Union out CONCACAFed a CONCACAF power and didn’t slow down in the next round when they did the same thing to Atlanta.

Even in MLS play, the Union’s scrappy tactics have had their success. They’ve played multiple unruly games across the season and come out with a desired result in a majority. The Union’s $hithousery has, for the most part, led them to victory. However, the crucial part of that sentence is “for the most part.”

A ceiling on the $hithouse

Despite the general success of the Union’s off-putting tactics, there have been games where the U’s propensity for disruption has gotten in the clubs’ own way. Wednesday’s game against Minnesota is a perfect example. 

Wednesday’s loss saw the Union walk away without points for the first time in seven games and miss out on the opportunity to go level on points with Nashville for second in the East. It was a critical game in a tight playoff race, and the Union did nothing but get in their own way.

While the self-inflicted errors were most noticeable on the defensive side of the ball, the Union’s usually effective unruly tactics played a huge part in their defeat. One of the most notable “tactical” lapses came when Olivier Mbaizo reacted to a strong challenge in the first five minutes and earned himself an early yellow that effectively ended his ability to be aggressive on the defensive side of the ball later in the match. Minnesota’s first goal of the evening came after a run of play where Mbaizo thought twice about lunging in for a tackle that he would’ve presumably made had he not been on a yellow card.

It’s a perfect example of how overzealous physicality can come back to bite a side.

Tangible examples aside, the Union’s early tactics drew an already impressive mid-week Minnesota crowd even more into the game. The crowds shared disdain for prolonged rolling on the ground, and physical play made a damp and gloomy Allianz field an electric environment for the hometown Loons. It’s hard enough to fly across the country and play an away game in the middle of the week; there’s no need to make it even harder on yourself by getting the home crowd into the fixture. Heck, even Kai Wagner’s late rolling around after being hit with the ball took precious time off the clock for a Union side desperate to find a late equalizer. 

While the Union’s disruptive tactics certainly can be (and have been) effective, as the playoffs loom, the club must learn when to control their emotions. 

4 Comments

  1. Well the commentary around Mbaizo is interesting as Mbaizo is to defense to what Gaddis was to offense. Mbaizo is a defensive liability without a yellow card.

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    Good article. I am all for the $hithousery, but agree that it needs to be used sparingly and correctly. If not, you look desperate and sad and you’ll quickly earn a reputation… see El Brujo

  3. Atomic Spartan says:

    The thing about $hithousery is that it’s still $hit. Just Play Well and cut the crap.

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